Atlanta New EconDev Focus on WalkUPs

A new commitment to walkability is having an impact on economic development in Atlanta. Since 2009, 60 percent of retail, office and residential development has incorporated walkable design.


What Happened?

Atlanta has adjusted its design and development strategy to improve residential quality of life and drive more people to its residential neighborhoods. Between 2009 and 2013, 60 percent of new construction projects in Atlanta focused on retail, office and residential space that offered walker-friendly options for shopping, working and living without a need for a car.

The Goal

Many major cities are opting for strategies similar to that of Atlanta. The more pedestrian-friendly a metropolitan area is, the more likely populations will grow, economic activity will blossom and developments will flourish. Cities reluctant to embrace a more narrow focus on walker and bicycler amenities may continue to experience sprawl.

Walkability Scores

A recent report from Christopher Leinberger of George Washington University discussed the auto-centric growth and developments most major cities experienced during the second half of the 20th centuries as cars became more accessible and connected highway systems drove population growth. However, in the past decade or so, many cities such as Atlanta are undergoing major changes, where the majority of developments taking place are in walker-friendly neighborhoods where cars are less prevalent.

Thanks to more urban residents taking public transportation or riding bicycles, the walkability of a metropolitan areas has become a selling point. More residents are seeking alternative options for maneuvering the city other than driving their own car, combating congested roadways and struggling to find parking. As a result, urban planners are investing significant capital into transforming many urban neighborhoods into walker-friendly and pedestrian-centric centers.

Now that the public has indicated a preference for walker-friendly developments and planners are embracing the car-free strategies, local governments should proactively invest in the infrastructure and zoning adjustments necessary to support pedestrian-centric initiatives that are enhancing economic growth across the country, the report explains.

Data To Back It Up

Leinberger’s report broke down the neighborhood composition of Atlanta to analyze the city’s walkable score now and in the future. The report found 27 established “WalkUPs” in metropolitan Atlanta making up 0.55 percent of the city’s total land, with 0.33 percent of space attributed to emerging WalkUPs in development. The report also revealed:

  • WalkUP areas in Atlanta are 16 times more densely populated than the rest of the region
  • 19 percent of the total metropolitan jobs are found in established WalkUPs, and 3 percent in emerging WalkUPs
  • 74 percent of established WalkUPs are within the city of Atlanta, with nine emerging WalkUPs in the surrounding suburbs and 10 potential WalkUPs outside of the city.
  • 59 percent of the most significant WalkUPs in the region have rail transit to accommodate residential transportation
  • Rent in established WalkUPs is 112 percent higher on a per-square-foot basis than in suburban, auto-centric communities
  • Between 1992 and 2013, the marketshare of regional developments found in established WalkUPs has increased from 10 percent to currently 50 percent

The study attributed economic growth in WalkUPs to the presence of knowledge-based workers attracted to regions, the development of walkable urban spaces and increased access to educational opportunities to support the population.

Walking The Walk

Gov1 has reported on several other walker-friendly projects including housing and more car-free zoning.

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